I've made myself and a million; but I'm damned if I made you.
Master at two-and-twenty, and married at twenty-three—
Ten thousand men on the pay-roll, and forty freighters at sea
Fifty years between'em, and every year of it fight,
And now I'm Sir Anthony Gloster, dying, a baronite:
For I lunched with his Royal 'Ighness—what was it the papers had?
"Not the least of our merchant-princes." Dickie, that's me, your dad!
By using acquired wealth, knowledge, and skills (often including outright bribery), a merchant or other capitalist character becomes a member of society's ruling class. Unlike in One Nation Under Copyright, the Merchant Prince doesn't necessarily own outright the society he rules, or even run a Mega-Corp; he may, in fact, be only the "first among equals" among many competing merchants. However, this usually doesn't keep him from trying to run the government like he would his business.
Note that to qualify for this trope, a merchant must rise to power as a consequence of his own power and wealth. A merchant who inherits political power because he was already the rightful heir to the throne doesn't count, as he would have gotten that throne regardless of his mercantile activities. A Self-Made Man who becomes royalty by being wealthy and renowned enough to marry the king's only daughter would count, however.
Generally, a Merchant City will be ruled by one of these, or by a council of them modeled after those of Renaissance Italy. Though not required for the trope, some may operate (at least) one Mega-Corp.
A particularly successful Intrepid Merchant often "retires" to become one of these. In more modern settings, expect a lot of these to also be Corrupt Corporate Executives. Some video games based on the An Entrepreneur Is You model may have becoming one as the player's goal.
Not to be confused with The Merchant Princes Series, which, despite the name, doesn't really feature the trope. "The Merchant Princes", on the other hand, features a merchant taking the most powerful position in his culture through business-savvy and charisma.
- Erika in Pokémon Reset Bloodlines is a variation. She's the head of one of the largest department store chains in the world, and while she doesn't hold actual government office, she does have a lot of influence in Kanto's politics.
- Isaac Asimov's "The Merchant Princes": This story explains how the Foundation transitions from ruling their outer provinces through a Scam Religion to ruling through economic control. The Scam Religion that allowed Terminus to suborn control from the Four Kingdoms has proved remarkably unsuccessful in advancing the Foundation's sphere of influence. Hober Mallow, who would later take the "Merchant Prince" title referenced in the story's name, uses technology brokering to enhance the Foundation by turning their nation into a literal commercial empire. His practical proof? Winning a war simply by enforcing a blanket ban on trade until their enemy surrenders.
- Prince William of Ceta in Dorsai!. Using his business talents, William managed to acquire enough political power to de facto rule a planet. His title of "Prince" was given to him from one of the nations on this world. And managing to manipulate the interstellar market, almost conquered all of inhabited space.
- Lucas Trask in Space Viking is named Prince-Viceroy of Tanith for pillage and plunder, but he decides trade is more profitable than pillaging and builds Tanith into the center of a powerful interstellar alliance.
- Nicholas van Rijn, from Poul Anderson's Technic History series, is the head of the Solar Spice and Liquors Company, one of the several conglomerates that make up the Polesotechnic League, a interstellar trading group more powerful than any planetary government. Van Rijn is a classic self-made man, and he is more powerful and influential than many actual princes.
- Vorkosigan Saga:
- The entire system of Jackson's Whole is run by a set of corrupt merchant princes, including Baron Ryoval, Baron Bharaputra and Baron Fell. (The title is honorary.) The only reason they're not considered criminals is that they have all the power, and no other system can enforce its rules on Jackson's Whole.
- The Toscanes of Komarr (along with pretty much the rest of the Komarran oligarchy) are a more benign version of this. They are a shipping dynasty that controls large portions of their planet's trade. Emperor Gregor first met his wife Laisa when she was visiting the Barrayaran court as a lobbyist for Komarran trade interests.
- The Vattas of Vatta's War.
- In C. J. Cherryh's Alliance/Union series, the Alliance was created by the heads of powerful merchant clans who didn't want to be controlled either by Earth or by the newly-formed technocratic Union, so they used their wealth and power to create a new independent government headquartered at Pell which they basically control (after the Mazianni have fought Union to a standstill).
- The Alliance Captains also had a weapon in their arsenal - the threat of a General Strike that would bring all commerce in Human space to its knees. Union backed down and agreed to recognize Alliance rather than have that happen.
- In the novel Going Postal, Reacher Guilt is a powerful merchant and conman who is attempting to use his wealth and power to displace the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork.
- By the end of the series, Harry King has become one, though it's mostly due to his socialite-wannabe wife. Well, that and that he's richer than what he deals in (Harry's business began by carting away the contents of chamber-pots). Turns out there's real money in that, especially since he gets paid once for hauling it away and once more when he sells it to alchemists, tanners, paper manufacturers, and the like.
- In Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination, businessmen like Presteign of Presteign have so much power that they essentially are the government, and their family names are treated as titles.
- In Norman Spinrad's Bug Jack Barron, Jack's investigations lead him to tangle with one of the richest and most powerful men in America, Benedict Howards, whose influence can not only threaten Jack's media career, but his life.
- Elihu Willsson, the "Czar of Poisonville" in Red Harvest. A powerful and rich industrialist, he had enough influence over half of California and de facto rule a city... until he lost control of the corrupt officials and gangs that helped him put down a worker's strike.
- In The Bible Lydia the purple dye merchant was one of the first gentile converts to Christianity from Greece. As purple was a high end luxury product—at least the equivalent of the more exotic perfumes available today, and perhaps even more extravagant when you account for the travel hazards and sumptuary laws that existed at the time—one must conclude that she was a powerful figure. And given the patriarchal society she lived in, she probably overcame a number of obstacles (making her an even more impressive figure). She may have been the matron of a local dynasty serving as family head after the death or incapacitation of The Patriarch, but that is speculation.
- In Elantris, this is the law of the land in Arelon; noble rank is based on wealth.
- Xaro Xhoan Daxos in Game of Thrones, richest man in Qarth and member of "The Thirteen," the ruling council of the city of Qarth.
- The Ferengi in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (and the general Star Trek 'verse) were a Planet of Hats of merchant princes, as political power was very much connected to success in business. The most successful (usually also the most ruthless and greedy) becomes the merchant prince of all Ferengi and is known as the Grand Nagus.
- "Jock" Ewing from Dallas, the patriarch of the family and father of J.R., Gary, and Bobby, was an oil baron who was teaching his sons to wield wealth as a form of power the way he did. He was most successful with J.R.
- In Bones, in the two-part episode "Yanks in the UK", a powerful American businessman in London uses his political influence to get Booth and Brennan (who are in town for a conference) seconded to Scotland Yard to investigate the death of his daughter, despite the fact that the FBI has no jurisdiction in the UK. Things get more complicated when the businessman becomes a suspect in a second murder.
- Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms setting. The country of Amn is ruled by the Council of Six, each a merchant-king with more money than they can spend. In descending order of seniority they are the Meisarch, Tessarch, Namarch, Iltarch, Pommarch and Dahaunarch.
- The Third Imperium in Traveller, and to an extent the First and Second Imperiums as well, were founded and maintained by Merchant Princes. While the ruling class often went into more traditionally "princely" occupations like military service (especially with the Second Imperium), the role of the Merchant Princes always remained an important one.
- Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Traders are aristocratic merchants given practically free rein by the Imperium of Man. As in they can do anything from trade with Xenos to outright piracy.
- The Republic DLC for Crusader Kings II adds a new system of government based primarily on the real-life examples in Italy. Whichever Patrician takes control during succession is the one with the most prestige, age, and invested cash.
- The Europa Universalis games have Merchant Republics, ruled by this sort of character.
- Though fairly often borderline not — a lot of the historical merchant republic limited political power to people that had certain generally inherited titles. That said, they were far more openly, simply and formally buyable inheritable titles, and a family that had the titles but lost their trade tended to lose most of their influence.
- The Merchant Prince series of strategy games casts the player as an Intrepid Merchant in 15th century Venice and allows them to gain key posts in the government to further their ambitions.
- Dragon Age:
- In Dragon Age: Origins, use of the in-game codex and chats with some NPCs reveal that the country of Antiva, while nominally a monarchy, is effectively a plutocracy- ruled by a dozen or so merchant princes with personal armies, vast resources and a heaping helping of the local assassin order, the House of Crows.
- In Dragon Age II, dwarf companion Varric Tethras is described as one in his specialization. The full story is a bit more complicated - he comes from a noble family that was exiled to the surface for their father's crime. His brother is obsessed with restoring his house's former glory, while Varric is content with the life of a successful author and Knowledge Broker who occasionally shoots people. He's one of the most well-connected men in Kirkwall, and possibly one of the richest. He finds actual finance rather dull by comparison and avoids Merchant Guild meetings if at all possible.
- In the Trespasser DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition Varric has been made Viscount of Kirkwall due to all the work he put into rebuilding the city-state. He seems to have grudgingly accepted the posting, but considering his affection for Kirkwall it's mostly bluster.
- In Uncharted Waters and its sequel, New Horizons, while some of the playable characters had main careers as merchants and some did not, any character with enough gold could invest in the markets and shipyards of foreign ports, and with enough investment over time could bring the port into their home country's "sphere of influence" which would afford them a favorable market there as well as expand the power and influence of their home country. Such influence-buying helps the character enter the nobility and advance upward in noble rank, which implies increased political power.
- Much like Uncharted Waters, Sid Meier's Pirates! allows the player, a professional "nautical salvage expert," to advance in rank and title with his patron countries by attacking the ships of their foes. One of the endgame retirement options, based on the player's score, has him becoming a colonial governor himself.
- CEO Nwabudike Morgan in Sid Meiers Alpha Centauri. While of African royalty and rich on Earth, he had none of that when he was reawakened on the starship Unity. Despite not having any official position in the mission, Morgan managed to worm his way into the leadership and gather a large following in the few days he was awake before the Landing, set off to Planet with his followers, and create a powerful faction only with his own talents.
- The leaders of Goblin society in World of Warcraft are known as Trade Princes, usually the most business savvy, greedy and ruthless of the lot.
- An option in Imperium Nova with many spheres, in particular Mercantile.
- In Civilization V, the "Commerce" policy path most strongly resembles establishing a medieval-Italian-style maritime merchant republic; your "title" while on the "Commerce" path is even "Doge" (the title of the heads of the Venetian and Genoese Republics).
- The leader of the Daggerfall Covenant in The Elder Scrolls Online, High King Emeric was originally a merchant lord from High Rock.
- In the new Master of Orion game, the Gnolam Commodore is portrayed this way. He appears to be sitting in a luxurious tent on a very nice throne. His speech has a vaguely Eastern accent and sounds like a typical merchant.
- One of the arcs of Noob: Le Conseil des Trois Factions consists of a player using her fortune to create a shortage in much-needed materials, slowly put them back on the market at an inflated price to put her whole faction in her debt, then use that debt to pressure the de facto highest ranking player into Passing the Torch in her favor.
- Bojack Horseman: Circa The '40s, the Sugarman Sugar and Creamerman Cream-based Commodities companies had two less-than-ideal heirs:
- Beatrice Sugarman, last surviving child of Joseph Sugarman and heiress to the Family Business (at least in theory), whose past traumas (having her mother Honey lobotomized due to her older brother dying in World War II) made her jaded toward finding any happiness and escaping her intellectual-barren aristocratic scene.
- Corbin Creamerman, only child of Mort Creamerman and heir to the dairy company, whose courtship of Beatrice was partly sponsored by Mort and Joseph themselves and found himself ostracized by a similar intellect without mustering the spine or courage to apply to the company, courtesy of his father's mercenary upbringing and not being the stud people would respect, Beatrice particularly. Not at first, although history sadly had other plans.
- As noted above, many cities in Italy were ruled by merchant princes at some point or another. The foremost example was Venice, a republic ruled by a Doge who was elected from the ranks of the Senate for life and assisted for much of the city's history by a secretive Council of Ten. Its chief rival, Genoa, was also ruled under a similar system.
- A modern example: the oligarchs of 1990s Russia. These nouveau riche capitalists were the power behind the ever drunk Boris Yeltsin.
- J.P. Morgan, the American philanthropist and financier. Morgan's skills in business not only transformed the economy, but also managed to use his influence to offset two economic panics. In addition, Morgan financed McKinley's campaign during his election and re-election.
- Two very prominent families have done this in the United States, the Kennedys (who obviously produced John F. Kennedy as well as several other politicians) and the Rockefellers (who produced several congressmen, senators, and two governors, one of whom became Vice President) springboarded to political positions from the wealth they made or inherited.
- Overseas Chinese have a number of these. Which makes sense. Guess which language the word tycoon came from?
- If you're trying to be semantic by saying tycoon came from Chinese via Japanese, consider that Japan has had zaibatsu since the Meiji Restorationnote . The Big Four (Sumitomo, Mitsui, Mitsubishi, and Yasuda) dictated much if not most of Imperial Japan's policies (at least until the military nationalized much of their assets in World War Two) and were each ultimately controlled by a single family - there were also several "second-tier" zaibatsu such as Kawasaki, Nakajima, Nissan, and Nomura that operated similarly to the Big Four business-wise but weren't controlled by single families.
- South Korea also has a handful of businesss conglomerates that control large chunks of the country's economy and led by family members - there they're known as chaebol. Several chaebol family heads have gone to serve in the National Assembly.
- The word for this in Hong Kong is Taipan. James Clavell's novel by the name is about one of these.